Please forgive me devoted reader for it has been a few weeks since my last blog entry, however it is for good reason, and I hope you can appreciate the following discourse if for no other reason than merely living a little vicariously.
Readers may recall that in my last entry dated 29th August I made mention of the ridiculously generous and extravagant birthday present my partner Cara had bestowed upon me for my otherwise generally unwanted 40th.This gift took the form of a little week long trip to none other than Peninsular Malaysia to do no small amount of birding, helped along in a huge way by the services of Kingfisher Tours.More specifically, my guide was Mano Tharmalingham, an amazing fellow and modern-day gentleman as it were, but more on Mano later.
Cara had asked me if I wanted to throw a big party for the big birthday, but not really being a big party sort of guy I sort of said, well, no not really.So she suggested I go on a birding trip instead.Incredulous and gobsmacked, I humbly accepted...
Boring organizational and airport details aside, the old Melbourne Birder stepped off the plane in Kuala Lumpur at 4.30pm local time on the 31st August to a small welcoming party in the form of a Brown-backed Needletail scooting low over the tarmac; does life get any better??However I was brought back to earth pretty quick during the taxi trip to my hotel in KL as he drove in excess of 130kph most of the way.Which was good really because I wanted to check-in sharpish and get out birding in the remaining daylight.I had carefully planned that my hotel was just near to the famous LakeGardens that would give me a little introduction to the incredible avian riches of this amazing country.I was trembling with anticipation and excitement. However something had gone awry in my meticulous preparations and I ended up in a hotel with the same name but in a completely different area, sort of a semi-industrial business-park type scene alongside a big motorway.Needless to say there weren't many birds about other than indigenous Common Mynas and feral Javan Mynas, which in itself was pretty weird.Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Oriental Magpie-robins were nice to see again though.
I slept the sleep of a forty year-old that night in my magnificent hotel bed and was greeted at precisely 6am the next morning by Mano in the hotel foyer.And so off we went, driving away in Mano's extremely comfortable and locally-manufactured Proton, to destinations, sights and sounds as yet intangible.
A lot of what ensued thereafter is a bit of a blur really, there was so much to take in, so much scenery and culture, people, villages, rainforest, swamps, etc.But I remember the birds, and that's the main thing.Our first port of call as it were was the pristine sub-montane rainforest-clad hills to the north-east of KL just out of Gombak heading up towards Genting Highlands.It was raining steadily with intermittent thunderstorm activity which seemed to keep bird activity down.But this was good as I didn't want to be overwhelmed by a dazzling array of spanking new birds.As it was I could only just keep up with Mano, and we methodically picked out Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot, Yellow-and-Black Broadbill, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Buff-vented Bulbul, Whiskered and Grey-rumped Treeswift, Silver-rumped Needletail, Verditer Flycatcher, Mountain Imperial Pigeon and Blue-winged Leafbird.We heard Rhinoceros Hornbill honking way off up the mountain, as well as Blue-eared and Gold-whiskered Barbet.In clearings along the way could be seen huge flocks of Aerodramus swiftlets wheeling around at various levels of the atmosphere; as to their identity it was anyone's guess.
Our descent from out of the highlands brought us down to an area called Ulu Yam, near the rural centre of Batang Kali, and a nice mix of habitats consisting of grasslands, secondary scrub, swamps and cultivated fields.The place was rotten with birdlife, and again I didn't know where to look.Lesser Coucal, Zebra Dove( a recent split from Peaceful Dove, contentious?), Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous-bellied Swallow(another split, from Striated Swallow), Purple Heron, Ashy Tailorbird, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Fantail, Paddyfield Pipit, and finally, the target bird for this little oasis, a pair of Barred Buttonquail, which were indeed a sight to behold.At this stage my head was spinning, I was agog with all of these new birds and my legs began to buckle beneath me.Mano had to assist me as I was set to faint at any second.He told me to get a hold of myself as there was more to come, much, much more. I steeled myself, and stepped forward.
The famous hill-station of Frasers Hill was the targeted destination, and we slowly wended our way back up through the foothills of the TitiwangsaRange, birding as we went.Fantastic views of a Rufous-bellied Eagle perched high in a dead tree on a hillside, a flock of what may well have been the rarely seen Waterfall Swift; Mano was quite sure of their identity, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Blue-winged Leafbird and recently arrived Dollarbird were to befall my eyes.
Arriving at Frasers Hill we checked in immediately at the Shahzan Inn, and from the balcony outside my room I was soon ogling at the bizarre and beautiful Fire-tufted Barbet, as well as Long-tailed Sibia, Silver-eared Mesia and Glossy Swiftlet.
We birded the remainder of the afternoon on foot along the Telekom Loop, where we picked up both Chestnut-capped and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush near the start.Black-browed Barbets were calling everywhere but remained unseen, and frustratingly brief, barely glimpsed Streaked Spiderhunters and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers darted about.About halfway along the Loop we turned back, as it was very quiet, the two of us having not seen much at all.
Amazingly, the turn back was also a turnaround in fortunes, as we were beset upon by an event known as the famous Frasers Hill bird-waves.One minute all was quiet and serene, the next thing we were surrounded by birds in all strata of the forest, from floor to upper canopy, each species occupying its own little niche, the whole mass moving forward slowly through the rainforest sucking up all invertebrate life in its wake. It was hard to know where to look, but we managed to lock onto Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Fulvetta, Golden Babbler, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Black-and-Crimson Oriole, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Grey-chinned Minivet, Everett's White-eye and Mountain Bulbul amongst others. I'm sure there were birds I missed, and the flock was gone before I knew it.It was an amazing experience and totally unforgettable.
Further along the way back we heard Pygmy Wren-babbler and Lesser Shortwing calling loudly from the undergrowth, but they remained elusive.We managed to get decent views of Black-browed Barbet, a beautifully colored bird yet amazingly camouflaged in the foliage, as well as Streaked Spiderhunter and a nice male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.All the while Glossy Swiftlets and House Swifts twittered and zoomed overhead.
We saw out the last of the daylight down near Jeriau Waterfall, where a single Malayan Eared Nightjar made a couple of fly-bys, calling mournfully. This particular moment remains one of the enduring memories I have of Frasers Hill.
It was simply an awe-inspiring day, and one of my most incredible birding experiences ever.
The next two days provided more of the same sort of stuff as we birded the various trails about the place, like Bishop's Trail where we gawped at Sultan Tit, Common Green Magpie, Red-headed Trogon, Lesser and Greater Yellownape, Bay Woodpecker, Little Spiderhunter and Javan Cuckoo-shrike. We heard Rusty-naped Pitta on a couple of occasions, but it would not be tempted in by Mano's imitation of its call.
Along the Hemmant Trail we saw Rufous-browed Flyctacher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Little Cuckoo-Dove and Large Niltava.
Down around the Jeriau Waterfall area we picked up the stunning Slaty-backed Forktail, as well as Ashy Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Mountain Tailorbird and Grey-throated Babbler. At night we managed to connect with a magnificent Brown Wood Owl.
One early morning we were at the Upper Gate right on dawn to see the exceedingly shy Malaysian Whistling-thrush, which obliged us with a deliciously prolonged view behind the gatehouse.
On another afternoon we took to the Telekom Loop again, and again I was blown away by the sheer number of birds present, as well as many different species too.This time wesaw two small parties of the unusual White-browed Shrike-babbler, Blue Nuthatch were seen in 3 different spots, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Gold-whiskered Barbet and Greater Yellownape were all present. But most amazing of all was first hearing then seeing a Long-tailed Broadbill - fantastic in itself, but it was soon followed by another, and another and another, until we sort of lost count after about 20. An incredible scene and one which Mano had not witnessed in 30 odd years of guiding(these birds are normally seen singly or in pairs).Not only that but this species is one of the most beautiful birds I have ever laid eyes upon, they truly have to be seen to be believed!!!
We also birded down the mountain at a lower elevation around The Gap, where different birds not found higher up assaulted my senses.Species like Green-billed Malkoha, Scarlet and Fiery Minivet, Long-billed Spiderhunter, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo, Collared Owlet, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and Yellow-vented Green Pigeon was here, as well as Crested Serpent-eagle, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker and Black-crested Bulbul.The ultimate skulker also fell under the radar in the form of Marbled Wren-babbler.We managed to track down a calling individual in a gully a couple of clicks back up the Old Road, and had a brief but extremely satisfying view of this very shy and strange thrush-like bird.
All too soon we had to scarper, leaving this utopian world of cool climate, comfortable birding and, obviously, some crunching birds.On the way down from the ranges we were able to pick up a few more species alongside the road.Best of all was a single Blyth's Hawk-eagle soaring overhead, Black Eagle, another Crested Serpent-eagle and Spectacled Bulbul.
Our final destination was the very popular coastal town of Kuala Selangor and the adjacent KualaSelangorNaturePark, with its extensive mangroves, secondary forest, swamps and adjacent scrub.We were to spend one night here and thus had an afternoon and the following morning for birding.Needless to say, the birds came thick and fast.Brown-throated Sunbird, Asian Koel, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Pink-necked Green-pigeon, Common Flameback, Long-tailed Parakeet, a couple of early migrant Tiger Shrike, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Coppersmith Barbet, Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, vociferous Yellow-bellied Gerygone, White-rumped, Black-headed and Scaly-breasted Munias, Black-naped Oriole, Laced Woodpecker, the mangrove dependent 'race' of Great Tit, Little Bronze-cuckoo, Common Iora, Pied Triller everywhere, and last but not least a really cute female Mangrove Blue Flycatcher.
We also heard Greater Coucal and Red Junglefowl; apparently the wild birds have a consistently abbreviated form of the familiar crowing call.
The whole trip was just amazing and over in the blink of an eye it seems.Over 160 species were seen, with around 85 of those lifers for me.We also saw some excellent mammals and reptiles too, including Siamang, Pig-tailed and Long-tailed Macaque, Banded-leaf and Silver-leaf Monkeys, 6 different squirrels including the incredibly beautiful Mountain Red-bellied Squirrel, Wild Boar and Common Palm Civet.At Kuala Selangor we were fortunate to see a Reticulated Python, Banded Krait (its venom is 16 times more potent than cobra venom) and several massive Water Monitors.A Japanese tourist in shorts and flip-flops who fancied himself as a bit of snake-wrangler had pinned the Krait down with his foot, picked it up and was posing with it for photos, until Mano told him what it was he was holding...
Many thanks are in order for my guide Mano.He is the consummate professional, conducting the tour with an extremely efficient, friendly manner, and has a warm and friendly personality.He was red-hot on bird calls and I would have missed many species were it not for his sharp and experienced ears.Not only this but Mano was just an all round great bloke.We had many discussions about various topics ranging from Malaysian politics, Hinduism, history - especially Malaysian history, Australia, and of course birds.In fact Mano preferred to talk about birds probably the least, and I'm sure he grew weary of my constant questions about this and that bird!!Even I was sick of me in the end, bla, bla, bla.A bit like this extremely long-winded blog entry really...
I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who is planning a jaunt to KL or Peninsular Malaysia for birding to get in touch with Mano or Dennis at Kingfisher Tours firstname.lastname@example.org
So there it is readers, I had previously been dreading the upcoming date that more or less signified the official end of my youth, feeling a bit miserable and morose because well, a bad back is indeed an indicator that wear and tear has taken its toll, and thinning hair and big lines & creases around the eyes means I am getting older, etcetera, etcetera.
But I have been able to step back and reflect, and really I have to look at my fortieth as a bit of an achievement, a small one granted, but a little landmark nonetheless. I'm pretty lucky to have gotten this far I reckon, I've had a great life, and thinking about it that way makes it all seem a little less foreboding.That and a birding trip to Malaysia...
Coolangatta, QLD 16th-20th September, 2009
Well if I needed a gentle reminder to pull me back down to earth after my trailblazing whistlestop tour of the Greater Kuala Lumpur region, and remind me that Oz Birds are just as ace, this was it.
Our little family had planned a 4 night stay in south-east Queensland to visit Cara's ailing Nanna, who was supine in a hospital bed in Brisbane. Our inbound flight to Coolangatta was to arrive at 10pm so I had booked accommodation nearby; turns out it was a good choice, we had a kitch but huge self-contained apartment overlooking the coastline up to Southport, and every day watched migrating Humpback Whales (well Wren watched all that Nickleodeon had to offer) frollicking offshore from the balcony. Squadrons of Scaly-breasted & Rainbow Lorikeets constantly sped past, Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Figbirds frequented the big old Norfolk Pines along the shore, and up the road street savvy Brush Turkeys patrolled the picnic areas around the headland...
But to cut to the chase, I managed to sneak out twice for some very early morning's birding. Not really knowing my way around I looked at a map and saw Springbrook National Park emblazened way off to the west of the coast. So to there I headed, and I'm glad I did. Qld has always struck me as a massively birdy place, lots of bird species and lots of bird density. Driving out past Mudgeeraba, along the creeks and valleys toward Springbrook, into Little Nerang Dam, up into the mountains, at every stop I made there were just birds everywhere. Spangled Drongo, White-throated Gerygone, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Australian Koel, Spectacled Monarch, Pacific Baza, Satin Bowerbird, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Tawny Grassbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Scarlet Honeyeater, Forest Kingfisher, Leaden Flycatcher, Little Bronze-cuckoo and Logrunner just to name a few. Such a pleasure to be out amongst the spring arrivals and hearing the dawn cacophony, just amazing.
30th September, 2009 Pt Cook Coastal Park
It's amazing to think that we are already one month through spring; this year is slipping by rapidly. Anyway, this afternoon myself and my 2yr old daughter Wren drove down the road to Pt Cook Coastal Park which is around 20 or so kilometres south-west of Melbourne, to see what may be around. We arrived at around 4.30 only to find the gates were already closed. For some ridiculous reason the Ranger shuts up shop at 4pm everyday. Unperturbed, we drove down the road further that terminates at the old Pt Cook Homestead. This road travels for 2 km through grasslands and pasture and skirts the northern edge of the Park with it's remnant Red Gum Grassy Woodland patches. We manged to see some nice birds too. No less than 8 Pallid Cuckoos were seen along the stretch of road, flying around, finding plenty of caterpillars and calling vigorously. We also found 2 each of Fantailed Cuckoo and Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, as well as Red-rumped Parrot, Dusky Woodswallow, White-fronted Chat, returned migrant Singing Bushlark and hearing Stubble Quail calling from a nearby paddock.
However the best was saved till the end right on dusk as a huge flock of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos left the large pine trees they had been feeding in around the Homestead and stretched across the southern sky toward the casuarina stands in the nearby coastal park, probably to roost for the night. I quickly counted 193 while they were all in the air at once, but I reckon there was a least 200.